CATEGORIES: Department Events

Sponsored by the ISU Department of History and the ISU Department of English


Can you imagine a future that includes A.I.?

Artist visualization of the input and output of neural networks and how A.I. systems perceive data. Photo by Rose Pilkington for Google DeepMind

For hundreds of years, human beings have been confident we can tell the difference between “people” and “machines.” More than that, we’ve been sure that there will always be certain things people can do that machines can’t.

This has seemed so obvious that we have barely needed to think about it. It’s been enough to imagine that some distinctive essence—a soul, creativity, a life force, or the infinitely complex neurochemistry of the brain—sets us apart in a way that would be impossible to replicate by purely technical means. A few visionary writers have dared to imagine situations in which these certainties no longer apply, but the scenarios they describe usually require capabilities beyond present-day science and technology.

The release of ChatGPT in late November 2022 changed public perception on this matter. Machines that act like people have become more a part of our lives. For many, it no longer seems quite so far-fetched to imagine a human-built collection of circuits with the ability to create, reason, and perhaps even make decisions with “a mind of its own.” An engineer for a major internet company was recently temporarily persuaded that the chat-bot his team had been tinkering with had become “sentient.” Even if most professionals agree that A.I. capabilities are not near this level yet, public interest in A.I. has sharply risen.

Thanks to this unprecedented shake-up, questions that once seemed to be too big to be “practical” now seem urgent: What is “sentience,” anyway? What about “creativity”? What is “real” and what is “unreal”? How can we tell a person is one or the other? What is the connection between the language a person uses and “who they are” socially, culturally, and emotionally? What does it mean to be an informed citizen, a critical thinker, even a unique individual? All of these questions have many possible answers, and how we answer them in a world shaped by generative A.I. has profound implications for the human future.

Fortunately, the humanities and social sciences are here to help! Philosophers, novelists, historians, poets, literary critics, cultural theorists, anthropologists, sociologists: All of them have grappled with these questions for generations. Their insights can help us envision possible futures, look out for potential pitfalls, and recognize unexpected opportunities.

The goal of this competition is to harness your imagination and creative power: to give you and your teammates an opportunity to discover your own answers to timeless questions about what it means to be human by building on the insights of scholars and artists who came before you. It will also give you a chance to explore what a career in game design and speculative narrative might look like and to make a connection with a gaming industry leader.


Competition Details

CASH PRIZES: First prize is $750; second prize is $250.

ELIGIBILITY: Any undergraduate student enrolled at ISU for Spring 2024 may participate.

THE CHALLENGE: Teams of 2-5 students will creatively draw on humanities and social science research to develop a “World Sourcebook” for an original, imagined human future in which civilization has been reshaped by artificial intelligence. The goal is to construct a description of a setting in which a video or tabletop role-playing game could potentially unfold: a “game world.” The future you and your team invent can take any shape you wish. It can be near- or far-future; utopian, dystopian, or something in between. Specific guidelines for portfolios will be shared at the orientation workshop.

JUDGES: Humanities experts and gaming experts will serve as judges.

AWARDS CEREMONY: This ceremony will be held in mid-April 2024 and include a master class by a video-game industry leader with extensive experience as a designer for World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the Tomb Raider franchise.

Click here for the Worldbuilding Competition rules and instructions.

Click here for a packet that offers an example of each of the components of the submission packet.

Click Here for Link to Orientation Workshop Recording:

Click here for Orientation Workshop Slides.

Join our Discord server! It’s the perfect place to find team members, ask questions, and stay up to date. Email Kelli at for the join link.



  • REGISTRATION IS OPEN NOW! Register your team at this link.
  • Attend one of the following 1-hour orientation workshops where we will go over the requirements for the competition materials, give tips, and answer questions:
    • IN-PERSON: Wednesday, January 31, 2024, from 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. in Ross 606
    • VIRTUAL: February 1, 2024, from 2:00–3:00p.m. (via Webex – Click here to join webinar).
    • If you miss both of these, email Kelli Fitzpatrick at for alternate options.
    • NOTE: You can register a team before, during, or after the workshop. If you’re not sure if you want to participate, come to the workshop and check it out. Your entire team is welcome at the workshop. Having at least one team member attend is extremely beneficial.
  • Research, create, imagine, write with your team!
  • Deadline to submit team portfolio: April 1, 2024—Submit materials.
  • Winners announced at the Awards Ceremony in mid-April. (Date, time, and location will be announced at a later date). Entire team is encouraged to attend.

Submit materials here.

EMAIL LIST: Want to stay up to date with competition news, links, and reminders? ? Drop your email here in this survey.

QUESTIONS: Email John Monroe or Kelli Fitzpatrick

Instructors: Please feel free to notify your students about this competition and encourage them to register a team!